Much has been written about the differences between the Packers and Seahawks since Seattle’s 36-16 win over Green Bay in the season opener. How about the difference in mood among the 12s from the previous NFC Championship to the one Sunday?
Talk about all in. Seahawks fans have gone from trepadacious to bodacious.
A year ago, Seahawks fans were a knot of anxiety, with a twist of self-loathing. On the precipice of the Super Bowl, but with decades of almosts and not-quites littering the community memory, the dread fear was that the San Francisco 49ers, the loathsome, irritating and contemptible San Francisco 49ers, would come to the Clink and steal away the oxen, winter corn, bannock, hardtack and leave gristle and bark.
In the following season, Seattle fans feared looking at the grin on Jim Harbaugh’s face as if it were the first scratch on a new car.
The Seahawks were a betting favorite from the day after the 2013 Super Bowl, through the summer, preseason and a startling 13-3 fall. But for longtime fans, there was a cloud of unbelievability because, well, Seattle sports history.
The Seahawks were 3½-point favorites over the hottest team in football — they won eight in a row — yet no one in the fan base was experienced in the art of being ahead and staying ahead.
In a column ahead of the game, I tried to explain the anxiety:
To be expected to succeed is not in the Seattle pro sports psyche. I doubt the players share it; nearly all of them come from somewhere else, and most are too young to have any experience with the lamentable local history. Besides, they get to act on their emotions Sunday. But 99.9 percent of their fans will be chewing arms off chairs.
The 68,000 lucky ones who can act Sunday will stand on concrete for three hours and scream so hard they will separate ribs.
But then the Seahawks won. In the greatest football game I’ve witnessed, the Seahawks and 49ers were valiant, elegant and ruthless all at once, and the Seahawks won 23-17. Anxiety vanished, replaced by exultation.
Now it’s one year later, and the emotions are different.
Having had hopes validated for the first time since the 1979 Sonics, the 12s are cocky. Expecting to win. Fearing no foe. Acting as if the Seahawks own the NFL show.
And more numerous.
Seahawks merchandise, social media activity and brand awareness are off the charts. The sports world sees that the Seahawks have a remarkable character or an action for every occasion. As in Saturday, when Kam Chancellor’s two leaps over Carolina’s line in an attempt to block field goals had people at home dragging in strangers off the street to watch replays with them.
“We’re starting to be all over the nation – people are starting to like us,” LB K.J. Wright said in a national teleconference this week. “Everybody back home (Memphis) are Seahawks fans. A lot of people in Arizona are Seahawks fans as well.
“Whenever you win and play good, people start liking you. I like that.”
Besides the massive increase in number and swagger, the biggest change is the nature of the opponent. It’s Green Bay Packers, who are, unlike the the San Francisco 49ers, a team that must try very hard to be disliked.
As an idea, the Packers must be liked because they are last and only community-owned team in major American sports. The NFL hates it, would do anything to get rid of public ownership, but if it tried, fans from every city in the country would come to Green Bay and join Packers fans in laying on the railroad tracks, daring the NFL to run them over.
I have covered three Seahawks games in Green Bay, and am delighted to report that the locals were unfailingly gracious to me and every out-of-towner from whom I have heard. They are invested in football emotionally as well as financially like no other market, even Seattle’s bellicose 12s, but are more proud than rude about it. Life there is a lot like the movie Fargo without the wood chipper.
And then there’s the current team, led by Aaron Rodgers, a guy who, in addition to his unmatched ability at quarterback, was admitted to the National Hall of Grit this week after gimping through the Packers’ 26-21 win over Dallas on a bum leg. Soon the stories will emerge about how he rescued grandma from a burning house, and lifted a car off a baby. Hey, he’s already friends with Hans and Franz, so it doesn’t much more heroic in pop culture.
Their coach, Mike McCarthy, is as careful with his public words as Harbaugh was clumsy. But no one discounts his coaching acumen.
So the vibe this week is far different. The iconic Packers, abetted by Rodgers’ guts, are laudable foes, not loathsome. Respected, not feared. Alas, not as dramatic.
But the result, that figures to be familiar: Seahawks 30, Packers 23.